‘My R200 000 holiday hell’
A Joburg man received a jubilant welcome at the OR Tambo International Airport on Thursday morning as he arrived home from a month-long nightmare ordeal that cost his family R200 000.
Gabriel Sequeira was finally united with his family weeks after their 10-day holiday in Phuket, Thailand turned sour.
Sequeira was arrested on charges of being in possession of fake dollars, had his passport confiscated for a month and had to frequently pay out sums of money to the police and lawyers to apparently finance the “case” against him.
As Sequeira faced uncertainty in Phuket, his distraught family and friends in South Africa kept depositing money into his credit card. At the same time the police kept taking it and demanding more.
A month and R180 000 later, the family pleaded poverty. They deposited their last R20 000 and the 43-year-old man was able to leave and head for South Africa after finally being given his passport in a barter agreement.
This morning the group of people who had helped secure Sequeira’s release through financial contributions and support gathered at OR Tambo under a banner proclaiming “Gabs we love you”.
Sequeira’s wife’s Carla was the first to go to him, and hugged and kissed him in the arrivals terminal.
Sequeira then embraced his 9-year-old daughter Alexis and 13-year-old son Steven. His 12-year-old son Marco was away on a school camp and unable to meet his dad.
The family’s nightmare began on the last day of their holiday.
They were about to check out of their hotel when Sequeira crossed the road to exchange $1 000 (R7 800) at the bank in order to settle his hotel bill. However, police arrested him on a charge of being in possession of alleged fake dollars.
The couple was confused because they had bought the dollars at Rennies Travel in Bedfordview, and had exchanged them throughout their stay without a problem.
They believe they were targeted because Sequeira was exchanging a large amount and police had identified him as a rich individual.
His passport and remaining dollars were confiscated and he was taken to the police holding cells where Carla was sickened by what she saw when she went to visit him.
“He was in a tiny cell the size of a toilet cubicle with about 10 other foreign men. There was a dip in the centre where they could relieve themselves and there was a guy on the floor eating food,” she said.
“Gabriel was holding onto the bars and said ‘try and get me out of here’,” she said. to me
While still in the cell a police officer brought a statement written in Thai for Sequeira to sign. He refused as he didn’t understand the document. But a New Zealander introduced to him as a tourism police officer and one of the few officials who could speak English, told him it was safe to sign the document as it was “just a formality”.
Unbeknown to Sequeira, by signing the statement he was acknowledging guilt.
He was released on R75 000 bail, but not given his passport. His children returned to South Africa on their own while Carla remained in Thailand.
Sequeira’s friend and brother flew to Phuket to try to secure his release, and although they paid money, the authorities refused to budge. A document from Rennies Travel proving that the dollars were genuine, a copy of which has been seen by The Star, was also disregarded. Efforts to seek help from both the South African and Portuguese embassies failed because Sequeira was no longer in custody, he had signed an admission of guilt and the police insisted that the matter was under control.
Disheartened, Sequeira’s supporters returned to South Africa. At some point the authorities demanded more money to take the dollars to Bangkok for forensic investigation – costs of which the family had to cover.
“Basically I had to buy my way out,” Sequeira said this morning.
It was only on Wednesday, after Sequeira was given his passport to withdraw the last R20 000, that he managed to leave the country.
He paid a fine for overstaying his visa and was free to leave with no pending criminal action against him on record.
Spokesman for International Relations Clayson Monyela advised that South Africans visiting foreign countries make the high commission or embassy their first port of call. This, he said, was to make sure they are registered as visitors and given advice for that particular country. Should they run into trouble, someone will then be able to come to their assistance quickly. - The Star